SHORT STORIES

Mattress

Mildred Samson confirmed that the kitchen door was closed behind her, opened the refrigerator, and removed a small plastic sandwich bag from the rear of the crisper. She stuck her little finger into the bag and pulled it out with her fingernail covered in cocaine. She sniffed it quietly and wiped her nose. She held the bag contemplatively in her hand. She did not want to be too high at dinner, but she could not stand doing just one nostril. She dug again with her fingernail until she was confident that she had done just enough coke to get bright, and then folded the bag away in her pocket.

The past few weeks had found her covering for a host of lies. Her husband leaving had rendered her worn and tired. The decision to inform her mother was about to make the situation unbearable. Tiresome discussions about reconciliation were eminent, but these were the same types of discussions that permeated during any type of family crisis. Fed up with the notion that she was never able to talk frankly with her family, Mildred stared at her reflection in a hanging saucepan. In the reflection, she recognized her own façade. She stared dreamily at herself for several seconds, and then laughed. Her head began to numb as she recognized the impatient howl of her mother emanating from the dining room. The dining room seemed very far away at that moment. It occurred to her she must have been staring at herself for a while. She pulled the bag out of her pocket and replaced it in the crisper. She gathered all of her energy and swung the dining room door open dramatically.

Mildred lifted her arms like a circus presenter. “So-rry I was gone so long.”

Her mother showed her teeth blankly and raised her eyebrows. “Do you need any help dear?”

“No thank you mother.” She took her place at the table and flashed a reserved smile. She drank heavily from a long stemmed wine glass.

Mildred’s mother, father, and sister all sat around an enormous wooden table. Mildred was pleased that the table she had rented dwarfed them all. It was a heavy table made of dark wood. It was unevenly stained, leaving big brown patches that hinted at blood. The table looked as though it had come from a meat packing plant. The table was high enough to meet them at the rib cage and pressed them all up against wall in their chairs.

The foreboding nature of the table was not lost on anyone. They all sat smiling blankly without using their eyes. It was normal for the family to attempt to appear unfazed by large obstacles. This was the smile of denial Mildred could remember being aware of since she was a child. She pulled a chair up to the head of the table. The table had been situated so she could afford herself the most room space. Feeling in control of the situation, she sat and surveyed the large table and its patrons. The Viking sized table oppressing the rest of her family caused her to feel free to take up space. She spread her arms wide with her palms against the surface of the table. Out of sight of everyone, she opened her knees. She began to notice being a little high and tapped her fingers on the table in front of her five times quickly.

She waited for nearly a full minute for her family to either mention the absent meal or inquire about the table.

“Uh.”

“Yes, father.” Mildred flashed abrupt attention at her dad causing him to jump slightly. She could not contain a sinister grin.

He chuckled nervously. ”I thought we came here for dinner.”

“You did.”

“Well,” Mildred’s mother continued to be frustrated at not having a dinner update.  In spite of this, she spoke civilly. “What are we doing about dinner?”
We are doing nothing mother. I have taken care of everything.”
Seconds ticked away as everyone sat in contemplative anticipation. Mildred showed no evidence of having prepared a meal. She sat proudly at the table that was set with forks, knives and napkins.  The sparse place setting served to make the oversized table appear even more daunting.

“Well.” her mother started again looking around nervously. She was aware of the inclination to repeat what she had said earlier and decided to change gears in the conversation. “Honey, where did you get this table?”

“I rented it.”

“Rented it?” Her mother’s smile had subsided into a curious glare.

“Yes.” Mildred replied without blinking.

Mildred’s father crinkled his brow. “Are you expecting others?”

“Nope.”

“What happened to your old one?” Mildred’s sister said crossing her legs casually. “I liked it better.”

Mildred was savoring the tension. “It’s outside.”

Mildred’s mother did not wait for her to answer. “Why on earth did you rent this…interesting table?”

“You’ll see.”

Mildred’s mother was losing patience with the situation. “Well, this behavior is unbecoming dear. And why won’t you answer me about dinner?”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Mildred’s voice hinted at sarcasm. “Are you all ready for the main course?”

Curious glances were exchanged silently around the table.

Mildred’s father spoke up with prickly enthusiasm. It was a painfully obvious attempt to lighten the mood. “Well, I could eat something.”

“Alright then. Dinner is served.” Mildred slid her chair back and disappeared into the living room. Her back came into sight of the dining room door seconds later. She was struggling with something no one in the dining room could see. As she came into full sight of the dining room her father and sister stood. Mildred dragged a queen size mattress in to the room. She struggled with it for several seconds causing her father to make a futile effort to get around the table to help. It hit hard and bounced most of the silverware onto the floor. Mildred handed out plates, and then sat down with her legs crossed away from the table.

“Honey, what is this?” Mildred’s mother asked still staring at the mattress in front of her. She was holding her hands in the air as though she were being robbed in a spaghetti western.

Mildred spoke plainly. “It’s a mattress.”

“I can see that honey.” She slowly lowered her hands. “Why have you put it on the table?”

“Well, this is the mattress David and I consummated our marriage on. The four of us are going to sit here and eat it tonight.”

Nervous glances were exchanged around the table.

“Did you hear me mother?’

Mildred’s mother looked down at the table and back at Mildred. “I heard you dear, but I still don’t understand.”

“David left me mother. And I never liked him that much to begin with. And I know that I’m not going to like anything you have to say about it.” Mildred picked a fork off of the floor and pointed it purposefully at her mother. “Now I have told you what I expect you to do.”

Mildred’s mother stared at the fork tentatively for several seconds. “Honestly, Mildred. What do you expect me to say?”

“I don’t expect you to say anything. I expect you to eat.”
“I think we should talk about this.”

“I don’t think we should say another word, mother. You have no concept why David left. You’ll never know and you don’t want to know. You’ll make your own inferences and that will be the end of it. So for the sake of your understanding and my sanity, we are going to sit here and eat this mattress.” Mildred slammed the fork in front of her mother. “And you are going to start and I am going to watch.”
Mildred’s mother returned to staring tentatively at the fork. “But dear, you must realize that we can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Mildred’s sister piped in. “I think it might be good for us. Mother, you never really listen when she tells you things. None of us do. Shit, I’m all for it. Let’s eat this motherfucker.”

“Dear please watch your language.” Mildred’s mother corrected her without much conviction. She tugged at the middle finger of her gloves nervously.
“Shirley, maybe the girls need us to eat this mattress.” Mildred’s father interjected in a sympathetic tone. “What would it hurt?”

Mildred’s mother looked around for support and realized she was alone. “I AM NOT going to eat this mattress.”

Mildred pulled a butcher knife from underneath her seat and waved it tauntingly in the air using her wrist.

Mildred’s mother crossed her arms and looked toward the china cabinet that had been pushed into the corner to accommodate the table. She raised her eyebrows and stared at herself in the reflection of the glass that housed her mother’s family china. She shook her head quickly and spoke to herself in the mirror. “I am not eating it.”

“Ah, go on mom. It’ll be a good thing.” Mildred’s sister took a plate and placed it carefully on the table. “Dad, serve the mattress.”

Mildred’s father stood and took the knife in his hand. He shrugged rather indifferently and stuck the butcher knife in the corner of the mattress. He began to rock it back and forth, carefully at first. An insane look formed in his eye as he began furiously sawing at the mattress. Mildred crossed her arms and watched as he pushed the knife violently in. The furious motion of the knife shook more silverware off the table. Everyone watched intently as the knife dug deeper and deeper into the mattress. After a while, there was the distinct sound of a metal blade grinding on wood as the knife finally went through the other side. He slowly lifted the corner of the mattress onto the plate and held it out to his wife.

“I made it a corner piece, dear.” He said wearing a suspiciously inspiring smile.

Mildred’s mother eyed him skeptically, and then took the plate in her hand. She moved it closer and examined it. One of the springs had bent outward where the incision had been made. She picked up her fork and knife and poked at it cautiously. The exposed spring remained taught as she slowly cut into the soft section of the mattress in front of her. She winced quickly as the spring snapped, breaking her plate into three perfect pieces. She took a breath and resumed cutting until the fragment she was working on was free. A crumb of spring stuck out absurdly as she raised the fork to her face. She took a deep breath and put it into her mouth spring first. She twisted the fork several times screwing the spring solidly into the back of her throat. She was unable to swallow with her mouth open. An eternity passed as the spring worked its way down the lower part of her throat outlining itself in her skin. Its furtherance past her esophagus was hindered by the dry bit entering her mouth. She could feel herself beginning to choke as the canvas material tickled the back of her tongue.

She put her hand purposefully around a pint glass full of water and tilted her head back. Water ran down the sides of her mouth and dampened the exposed nylon stuffing as she poured the water into her face as precisely as she could manage. Her neck expanded into the shape of the spring as the water flowed. She could feel the spring begin to spear into the lining of her throat. A feeling of panic welled up as she imagined that the integrity of her neck would be compromised. As it became apparent that the worst was finally beginning to pass, she relaxed. Her jaw became unhinged as the remaining exposed piece disappeared into her mouth. She forced her lips closed and swallowed. The path of the spring could be followed all the way down her throat to her rib cage where the indentation disappeared into her chest.

Everyone sat in silence as they waited for a reaction. Mildred’s mother made a stiff upper lip, and then smiled.

“Well…,” she said hopefully and shrugged, “…if we have to eat the mattress, then we’ll eat the mattress.”

Everyone appeared relieved as Mildred silently replaced the plates and silverware. Mildred’s father stood and sent the butcher knife deep into the middle of the mattress, dragging it purposefully through the middle.

 

 

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